It’s late afternoon when I pull into the lot at the West Paces Ferry shopping center. The afternoon sun, diffused by thick clouds, is just bright enough to make you squint. Two workers on a bucket truck are nearly done hanging the 50 Year Anniversary banner above the entrance to Pero’s Pizza & Pasta. Inside, the warm glow of pendant lamps beyond heavy crimson velvet curtains lights up booths along both sides of the narrow and cozy space. Freestanding tables and chairs in the center of the room are divided by a toppings bar and stacks of to-go boxes. An etched glass window separating the lobby from the dining room, family photos on the wall, and vintage menus in the display case under the register make the space feel familiar and comforting.
Pero’s Pizza & Pasta, in business since 1969, has earned a reputation as one of Buckhead’s most treasured family eateries. When the restaurant was first established it was a franchise location of Gigi’s, a restaurant that was once located on Piedmont Road. Charlie Pero, co-owner of Pero’s Pizza & Pasta along with his wife Wendy and son Billy, was friends with Gigi himself and the restaurant operated under that name for 10 years. In 1979 a fire briefly closed the restaurant, and after four months of repairs they reopened as Pero’s Pizza & Pasta.
I leaned in for a close look of the black and white picture hanging near the front door and got a glimpse into the Pero family tradition of restaurant management. In the photo are Charlie’s parents behind the camera and young Charlie himself, all smiles in the center of the frame. Hospitality is not just a job for the Pero family, it’s a way of life. While attending high school Charlie worked in a pharmacy, and later began working for Gigi’s when he was 26 where he supported his wife Wendy, then 23, and their 3 month old daughter. It has been nothing but Pizza & Pasta for Charlie ever since.
Billy, Charlie’s son, has been working at Pero’s for 20 years since graduating from school. He has a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management from the University of Alabama and is now co-owner of Pero’s with his parents. “He still comes every day,” said Billy of his dad, now in his 70s. The two work together to manage the business and maintain the restaurant’s quality and standards in an ever-changing world. It’s necessary to adapt and evolve with the times, cope with inevitable mechanical issues, staff management, and keep in line with local laws. “There’s always something,” said Charlie.
Despite increasing competition from national chains, this neighborhood Italian eatery has managed to maintain a loyal fanbase and reputation in the community. When asked what his secret is, Charlie chuckled and quipped “well, have you ever tasted theirs?”
While it’s true that in some ways Pero’s is a throwback to days gone by, still operating with a cash register and described by Charlie as “old fashioned,” they have also adapted to modern needs by offering delivery, catering, take-and-bake pizzas, and two food trucks that can be found at festivals and concerts. Many local schools, churches, and sports leagues rely on Pero’s to feed their groups and a steady stream of customers can be found socializing and eating in the dining room during any given lunch or dinner rush.
For the Pero family, quality is king. “Just about everything we do is from scratch,” said Billy, who told me that his favorite meals include the Penne Margherita and every dish that features veal which is butchered in house. The restaurant sees many familiar faces each week, with some regulars who have been coming there for decades. “This week we’ve lost 3 customers,” Charlie said somberly. “A lot of our customers have been coming here that long,” Billy added.
Servers, hosts, and kitchen staff also have a tendency to stick around. One employee who began working at Pero’s as a teen is now retiring, for example, and some staff members have worked there for more than 20 years. Robert Nash is a familiar face during the weekday lunch rush answering phones, taking to-go orders, and welcoming guests to the dining room. Now retired, Nash came back to Pero’s to take on the shift part time after a long career working at Westminster Schools.
Not only has Pero’s fed and employed the Buckhead community for 50 years it has also been a safe place to land in times of trouble. Billy told me about one night during a winter storm years ago when Charlie got stuck at the store. As the temperatures plummeted and any snow or sleet that was falling from the sky began to freeze Billy opted to head home but his dad wanted to stay just a bit longer. Before long the city and its interstates came quite literally to a screeching halt. Many motorists became stranded on I-75 and, abandoning their cars and forging through the storm to the doors of Pero’s.
Other businesses had shuttered their doors and gotten home ahead of the storm but Charlie was trapped at the restaurant and decided to welcome in weary travelers. Between 3PM and 11AM he fed and sheltered the group, among them a pregnant woman, and they curled up to sleep on the restaurant’s plush booths. At 4am someone appeared at the front door with an acoustic guitar and played a few songs in the dead of that cold night, a fond memory during an otherwise trying time.
Today Pero’s Pizza & Pasta continues to thrive, a fact that’s evidenced by the number of residents that return week after week. Charlie shared his desire for Billy to continue the family legacy beyond his retirement and cited another 8 years left on their current lease. Before I left I asked Billy if he ever gets tired of pizza. “Oh yeah,” he replied. “But I still eat it every day.”